3 Ways to Improve Lateral Explosiveness for Rugby

A ball carrier is running down the pitch towards an oncoming opponent.  It looks like he will be tackled for sure as the opponent lowers his body into position, but then, the ball carrier plants his foot and explodes in the other direction evading the tackle.  This is the highlight reel stuff everyone oohs and ahhs about and players dream about.

Being able to move quickly laterally on the pitch will greatly improve an athlete’s performance.  If you want to be able to make those kinds of cuts on the pitch without rolling an ankle or blowing a knee, then you have to train for it.  Here are 3 ways you can improve your lateral explosiveness on the pitch.

Deceleration – before you can go fast you must go slow.  There is a great amount of force going through the joints when planting the foot and making a cut.  The muscles, tendons, and ligaments must be strong and able to stabilize the joint during that movement.  The body needs to gain muscle memory and mechanics through the full range of motion. This will make the joints stronger and able to handle the required force.  

The way you train for deceleration is with resistance.  One of the best resistance movements for training lateral explosiveness is the side lunge.  You can use a barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells, sandbags, etc. The key with the side lunge is to make that step and then slowly lower down under control.  By going slow, you are teaching the muscles in your leg and joints how to properly control the body and stabilize the joint during a lateral movement. If you are using a challenging weight it will force you to go slow.  Other things to remember in the side lunge are pushing your hips back as you go into the lunge and make sure your back is straight. As you come up make sure to push your entire foot through the ground. Below is an example of the side lunge:

Power – once the body is strong then it can become explosive.  In deceleration, we teach the body how to control the movement. Now, we are teaching the body how to be explosive in movement.  In order to move fast, you have to train the body how to become powerful. Power training does this. In order to make that cut on the pitch, you need to be able to forcibly push your whole body in the opposite direction.  

Power is a combination of strength and speed, in regards to lateral movements the body controls the movement as the foot makes the plant into the ground with the knee bending as a result of the hips going back and then it quickly explodes out of that position making the elusive cut.  

One of the best power movements for training lateral explosiveness is ice skaters.  Ice skaters are a combination of balance, strength, and power. While balancing on one leg you control your body by descending into a squat, you pause and then explode out of that position landing laterally on your foot.  Some key points are not to rush the movement. Come to a dead stop, hold and then explode out of that position. Make sure the whole foot is making contact with the ground and forcibly drive your foot into the ground. The more contact area your foot makes with the ground the more force it can create.  Below is an example of the side lunge:

Match Simulation –  the only way to master a sport specific movement is by doing it at full speed.  If you want to get better at being more explosive laterally on the pitch then you must train for it at full pace.  Although, before you do that you have to make sure you have established a good base. The base you create with the strength and power movements.  We have taught the body how to decelerate and control itself in a lateral movement. We have taught the body how to be explosive in a lateral movement.  Now we are teaching the body how to do both of those movements quickly in a match situation.

There are a couple of variations you can do to become explosive.  However, the best match simulation movements for training lateral explosiveness is the side shuffle or lateral shuffle.  The side shuffle teaches you how to quickly move from one direction to the next. Just like you would do in a rugby match.  Here are some of the key points for the side shuffle:

  • use a short distance (3-5 meters)
  • constantly change direction
  • move as fast as possible

Use a timer instead of focusing on the number of times going back and forth.  Anywhere from 10-30 sec is good. Just remember the longer the time period the more your power will deplete.  If you notice that you are slowing down in the drill, stop. Use a shorter time period with longer rest. Once again, the goal is full speed. We want to be moving at that speed the whole time.   Below is an example of the side shuffle:

There you go, 3 ways to make you more explosive on the rugby pitch.  When training a new movement or trying to master a movement it is always best to train for it 3 days a week.  You can easily incorporate all 3 of these movements in your weekly training. I hope you found this information helpful and turns you into a more explosive rugby athlete.  

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